Deciphering the discipline

janfeb13

deciphering the discipline Mary GallerneaultGuest columnist On undergrad summer—usually means a break from simulations that easily made the visualI’d seen previously. It was the computerOne season of the academic year— studies, ago I worked at a biological sciences scale feasible. -I had no prior experience with commaterials engineering. Two summers simulations, and but I came to realize it was not teaching research, so the learning curve wasputational materials science before thiscompany in a fun and interesting job, the perspective find a job that would complement what The summer also granted me a perspec-certainly steep, but equally rewarding.me what I wanted to know. I needed to atoms inspire learning. I needed some perspective; it from what I previously know (havingtive on materials engineering differentI had invested three years of my time was time for a materials-oriented sum- spent the majority of my undergraduate My undergraduate experience in mer job. labs looking through a microscope or in materials science and engineering I was fortunate enough to spend last front of a polisher). Indeed, I had been, might be best described as one of summer as an undergraduate research for the most part, ignorant of the power survival. The course load in any engi- assistant at McMaster University work- of computational materials science, but neering degree is always demanding, ing under Jeff Hoyt, department chair have since gained some perspective on and each year students such as myself and associate professor of materials the breadth of its applicability: from do battle with the tides the seasons science and engineering. My work modeling grain boundaries, to diffu- bring: September’s new courses, seem- involved investigating the diffusion of sion rates, to dendrite formation. It is ingly unlike any others taken before; copper in a lead lattice—an interest- a unique and rapidly developing field, the eruption of flu in early October; ing problem because copper diffuses and now I look forward to seeing its the onslaught of midterms through an order of magnitude faster through future applications! November; and, finally, December’s lead than through other metals, and, final examinations. Repeat this sched- although this phenomenon has been ule for second term and fill in any recorded since the 1960s, the mecha- Mary Gallerneault is a materials extracurricular activities per your nism responsible for this behavior is science and engineering undergradu- desire. It is easy to get swept up in the still uncertain. ate student at McMaster University, passing of seasons, to simply focus on I undertook the investigation by in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. She “getting by.” employing a type of computer simu- will be graduating in 2014 and wishes There is an immense volume of lation called molecular dynamics. to pursue graduate studies. She can be knowledge supplied to us, and we are Molecular dynamics is a numerical reached at gallermf@mcmaster.ca n consistently surrounded by giants in method for analyzing a system, where the field—people who have found the behavior of atoms is predicted their niche in research and actively according to the solutions of Newton’s pursue their passion. It’s hard not to equations for motion. I generated sev- feel dwarfed and, in some respects, eral permutations for the system I was lost. Despite enjoying what I am learn- interested in, performed multiple runs ing and despite many professors giving for various temperatures, and calculate real-world applications for the materials the diffusion rate of copper through we study, I often wonder, “Why am I lead. I eventually was able to visualize learning this?” As the old adage goes, the system, which was my favorite part sometimes you “can’t see the forest for of the summer—I could actually “see” the trees,” or, perhaps more aptly, the the crystallographic planes in 3D and micrograph for the grains. on a much larger scale than anything 64 www.ceramics.org | American Ceramic Society Bulletin, Vol. 92, No. 1


janfeb13
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